Looking at the bigger picture

posted in: Chelsea FC Women | 0

In the end, the significance of the Lionesses match on a damp day at Wembley against old rivals Germany was less about the play and the outcome, and more about the magnitude of the crowd.

With a record 77,768 in the national stadium (although 86,619 tickets had been issued – a curious disparity), this was a game that felt like a milestone on a journey, rather than a critical battle between two teams.

Before Saturday November 9, the record attendance for an England home international stood at 45,619, for a previous meeting between the two sides in 2014.

This game smashed that total, although it fell just short of the 80,023 who watched the best-attended women’s game in the UK, when the USA beat Japan 2-1 at Wembley to win gold in the 2012 Olympics.

With a totally different profile to the usual tribal adult spectators, the audience for England v Germany was refreshingly young, enthusiastic and keen to shriek their shrill encouragement every time a Lionesses attack developed.

It helped that children’s tickets were £1 apiece, making it an affordable outing for families who would usually blanche at the asking prices for Wembley admission.

Two former Chelsea greats, Claire Rafferty and Karen Carney joined Laura Bassett on the pitch ahead of kick-off for a presentation to acknowledge their contribution to the game.

There was also a presentation to Ellen White, whose six goals in the summer’s World Cup were marked by the handing over of the FIFA bronze boot.

Mind you, had this been a proper international and not a friendly, it’s unlikely Kathrin Hendrich would still have been on the pitch after a horrendous flying tackle on Beth Mead, which suggested that this was going to be a full-blooded encounter.

England began sluggishly, with German captain (on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall) Alexandra Popp hitting the bar in the third minute.

Shortly afterwards, Hendrich crossed for Popp to send a simple looping header over the flailing Mary Earps in the England goal.

Gradually – cheered to the rafters every touch they made – the Lionesses fought their way back into the game.

When, on 35 minutes, Mead was felled by German keeper Merle Frohms, England won a penalty. But Nikita Parris’s spot kick was hard and straight, and Frohms’ trailing foot diverted it over the bar.

Finally England equalised in the last minute of the first half when Keira Walsh’s through ball found Ellen White, who beat offside and flicked it home. The celebrations (see below) were long and noisy.

Germany, though, were worthy winners, with Klara Buhl scoring on the break in the last minute, past the motionless Earps.

Phil Neville knows both that the Lionesses have to improve (and there’s every chance as the pool of domestic talent grows as the women’s game becomes established at club level) and that there is a reservoir of young, vocal supporters keen to watch them and help them attain greater heights.

“I think if we had a game in three months’ time at Wembley, we would have the same crowd after what they saw from both teams. It was a fantastic spectacle, an amazing occasion,” he said, correctly gauging the mood.

The stark fact for Neville, however, is that his side have only won once in six attempts since their World Cup quarter-final victory over Norway… which now looks like a high watermark of achievement.

No Chelsea player started – or took part in – the defeat to Germany, so expect to see Millie Bright and Co in action in a couple of days’ time.

Next up for the Lionesses, the trip to Ceske Budejovice for a Tuesday evening match against the Czech Republic.